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The Elusive Driver's License MAG
Walking to the bus-stop every morning at the start of my junior year at Glastonbury High School was one of the most disheartening moments of the day. As I made the two-minute walk, cars would race by me in a blur. Everyday it was the same red sports car, the black Acura Legend, and the Toyota Camrys, driven by my friends who already had their driver's licenses securely tucked in their wallets. In the eyes of society, they had already matured, and had been handed independence and responsibility. For me, life without a license was difficult to bear; it felt as if your flight had left early for its destination, and that you were watching it taxi away from the terminal. There was talk in the newspapers about a bill in the legislature proposing that the driving age be raised to 18. Secretly I wished the bill would pass, so everyone would be on an equal footing; life was passing me by in a blur, and I needed to have my "vision" corrected.
The seemingly endless saga of obtaining my driver's license began during the summer of '94 with Driver's Education. In preparation for the DMV test scheduled for July, I read the Connecticut driving manual cover-to-cover twice. Dad took days off from work so that we could practice driving around town and the Wethersfield course. Finally, after hours of preparation and countless other hours worrying about the test, the big day arrived. I remember being unable to eat breakfast. The nervous anticipation was getting the better of me. I went to the DMV with my mom, who seemed just as nervous.
The written test, administered via a computer program, was a tantalizing experience, because I knew that the questions were worded in a tricky way and that if I didn't get 12 out of 16 correct, I wouldn't even get a chance to do the road test. After missing the first two questions (not exactly a confidence-builder), I survived the others and earned a passing grade. After the written test, I waited for half an hour to meet the driving proctor. When the angular, gray-haired man with a wrinkled face arrived, he told me to proceed to my car, that he would be out in a few minutes.
As I nervously jingled the keys to my Toyota Camry, I finally saw the angular outline of my driving inspector, clipboard in hand, emerging from the double doors. I could feel the anticipation mounting every minute, and deep breaths of air were not sufficient to relax me or to keep my adrenaline level under control. I kept telling myself a driver's test is nothing to get unnecessarily tense about. Of course, it's hard to convince yourself of this when you know that failing means riding in the bumpy backseat of Mom's and Dad's car. Passing the test had promises of independence, maturity, and, more importantly, of driving to school in my car, as opposed to riding in another bumpy vehicle - the school bus.
As those thoughts swarmed in my head, the inspector opened the passenger seat and asked me to hit the brake pedal to test the brakes. In retrospect, this may have been one of the few things I did well on in the exam. When the inspector entered my car, I could feel the back of my neck reddening and my teeth clamping together. This was the first time I was driving without someone I knew in the passenger seat. Even Dad's carping ways seemed more desirable than this lanky stranger. As I made the usual preparations before driving, like adjusting the mirrors, the seats, releasing the brake, etc., the stranger peered at me. I forced a feeble smile and said hello. It was clear that he wasn't in the mood to exchange pleasantries, as he promptly snapped, "Aren't you forgetting to ask me something?"
"Urn ... uh ... don't understand ... um ... uh ... ask you something?" I stuttered, taken aback by his question. My heartbeat was pounding like a hammer striking a nail.
We hadn't even started the ride yet, and I had already made a mistake? "Yes, what about MY seatbelt?" he answered back.
"Oh yeah, urn ... could you please wear your seatbelt?" I asked as politely as possible. I was relieved to know that this wasn't something serious.
"Son, are you ASKING me to wear a seatbelt or TELLING me?" shot back the inspector, with a sly grin on his face.
My heart raced again as I stared dumfounded at the inspector. What was the difference between asking and telling? I fought back the urge to snap back at him with a "Damn, wear your stupid seatbelt."
"I guess I'm asking you to, but I won't drive unless you do," I averred, confident that I had just passed this little "mental" test of his.
"Are you ASKING me or TELLING me?" he repeated sternly.
Frustrated, I retorted, "Okay, I'm telling you to."
"Good answer, son. Let's go," he remarked.
The frustration from the inspector's mind games definitely rattled me. As I backed out of the parking lot, embarking on my road test around the town, I had lost my concentration and began to drive without using my head. Perhaps I wouldn't have passed the test that day anyway, as I may not have been ready, but the inspector's games didn't exactly inspire confidence at the outset. c